Babies born in Ghana come with one permanent name depending on which day in the week the baby is born. Ashantis may decide to skip their child’s day name and choose a different day name. This often happens when they name the child after a special person, a hero/heroine, a friend or a business partner. They often adapt the full names of that person. A parent who lived in Kumasi named his child after the first president of Ghana. The child was born on Tuesday but he was named Kwame Nkrumah, instead of Kwabena Nkrumah. This tradition or practice is common among the Ashantis in Ghana.
The other names given to the babies reflect the parent’s beliefs, wishes or preferences. The baby has no say in this matter. However, when the child grows up, she can decide to cast away the name the parents give her and choose her own.
There are several ways of giving a surname to babies. The most common one is for the father to give his surname to the baby. As said earlier on, the father can also name the baby after a hero/heroine, a special friend, or business partner.
Most names given to babies have some meaning. Nobody chooses a name that means nothing or has no significance. Sometimes names are given by fetish priests to parents who consult them to solve their child-birth issues. When their issues are solved, the fetish priest gives the child a name. This article will partly be discussing the effect of such names on the bearers.
Some people think or believe that certain names, by their definitions, carry with them bad luck and, very often, curses. Things may not go well for those who bear such names. However, it is not wholly true that all those who bear such names encounter bad luck.
I had a discussion with an elderly man when I visited Ghana last year. The man took his time to explain to me that there is no curse in the names per se but in most families, bad and destructive spirits, including witches and wizards, capitalize on the meanings of the names to shape the child’s destiny and to bring hopelessness, hardship and destruction on the child at the very incipient stage till the child reaches adulthood. He further explained that not all Akan names can be brought under curse.
Some names given to babies by the Akans have obvious meanings. Berko is translated as a
person whose life is full of hustle and bustle, Abebrese (a sufferer), Bediito (a glutton whose preference is mashed plantain), Kokooto (mashed plantain in red palm oil), Bosompem (thousand gods), Asuo (a gift from the river god), Nkwantabisa (ask at the junction), Bediako (a fighter and a hustler), Diawuo (a murderer).
Names with funny meanings do not exist only in the Akan culture. The Anlos have names which sound humorous, interesting and thought-provoking. Ex-president J.J Rawlings named his first daughter Zanetor. It is said that this child was born while Rawlings was in jail awaiting trial for treason. The name means, “let the darkness stop.” The birth of the girl expressed Rawlings’ wish for the dark days to stop, and it stopped too (at least for Rawlings). Indeed, many Anlo names are full meaningful sentences. Mawuenyega means God is great, Kugblenu (death destroys things), Delanyo (the Saviour is good), Mawunyo (God is good), Dzigbodi (Patience), Edem (the Lord has saved me), and Delali (the Saviour is there).
Interestingly, there are some terrific Ewe names whose meanings, for the sake of decorum, I will not provide here. (You may ask your Ewe friends to tell you…) What will you say about names like Avugla, Amemornu, Fiadigbor, Avudzivi, Agbetsiame, Datsomor, Avagah, Kumasenu, Gamor, Degodia, Gbormitan, Avadzi, Gbortsu, Agbogah, Gasor or even Woyome? Every ethnic group has such names but my digging around the subject revealed to me that the Ewes may lead this league of “special” names. Some of these names may have started as nicknames, names by which the bearer boasts of some personal prowess or “drinking names” taken at the nsafufuo grove or ogogoro bar but which gradually become bona fide names that are passed on to offspring.
In an epic song, Highlife Maestro, P S K Ampadu, described the disastrous effect of how one name brought untold hardships on the bearer. The person in the song was called Yaw Berko. Berko means a person who came into this world to fight it out or struggle in life. In the song Yaw Berko was hit hard by the uncompromising arms of life. Penniless at forty, he tried to find jobs in almost all the regions of Ghana to no avail. Yaw Berko’s destiny was a sad one.
Bosompem, Bonsam, Asuo and Brekune are all names that are easily manipulated by the spirits to implant in the bearers of such names elements of fetishism. Most of the time, a child with such a name is donated by a river god. Brekune is the name of a fetish god. All these names affect the destinies of these individuals.
Ghanaians are now careful in choosing names for their children. They choose names that inspire, bless, and motivate. The common ones among the Akans are Nhyira (Blessing), Obrempong (a mighty royal), Adom (Grace), Oheneneba (Prince), Ohemaa (Queen), and many more. The Ewes and the Gas also use motivating and inspiring names like Born-great, Prosper, Fafa (Peace), Destiny and many more.
All what Ghanaians need to do is to wise up. We must all commit ourselves to constant prayers and to make the fear of the Lord a top priority. If God intervenes, no matter what name you give to your child, no bad spirit or witchcraft can turn a name to curse the bearer.
By Stephen Atta Owusu
Author: Dark Faces at Crossroads